Establishing a Bedtime Routine

Establishing a Bedtime Routine

Sleep is essential for a healthy family dynamic, both for children and for parents.  Everyone in the family functions better when they are getting enough hours of quality sleep each night.

Age Hours of Sleep
0 – 2 months 10.5 – 18
2 – 12 months 14 – 15
1 – 3 years 12 -14
3 – 5 years 11 – 13
5 -12 years 10 – 11

(information from


Sometimes getting the right amount of sleep each night is easier said than done, though.  One of the first steps in getting the sleep your family needs is setting up a bedtime routine for your child.


Establishing a Bedtime Routine


Bedtime and wake-up time should be at approximately the same time every night and morning.  Unfortunately that means very little sleeping in, even on the weekends, for parents of young children.  Keeping the same bedtime and wake-up time, even on weekends and on vacations, will help to ensure that everyone gets the sleep they need and stays on a schedule.

Put your child to bed BEFORE they are tired.  This obviously goes hand in hand with a consistent bedtime.  Waiting until your child acts tired could actually be the downfall of successfully getting your child to sleep.  Overtired children will receive a rush of cortisol, a stress hormone, from the adrenal glands that will give the child a second wind, but will also make them very cranky.  The cortisol will make it hard for your child to relax and fall asleep.  Look for the subtle cues that your child is tired.  Cues like rubbing his/her eyes, staring off into space, and yawning. Try to avoid the overtired and frustrated meltdown before suggesting bedtime.

Give your child a little down time before he/she falls asleep.  Allowing your child a little down time before the bedtime routine begins will help to ease them into feeling restful.  Unfortunately, time in the evenings is a precious commodity, especially for working parents, and it can be hard to work that down time into the schedule.  Sometimes it feels more effective to move at a fast clip from dinner, to bath, to bed than to take thirty minutes of down time to relax.  But allowing a child a little bit of down time before the bedtime routine starts can be very beneficial in helping the child feel relaxed and fall asleep more easily.

Give your child a light snack before bed.  Snacking in the evenings may be the nemesis for most adults, but for children it can actually be a good thing.  Giving your child a light snack before hitting the sack can help keep their little tummies full through the night.  When my oldest was just a toddler she started calling the before bedtime snack a bednight snack and the name has stuck in our family.  Now my oldest is 14 and my youngest is 8 and a snack before bed is still called a bednight snack.  And it still is an essential part of their bedtime routine!

Some snuggle/cuddle time with a parent before going to sleep.  Often snuggle/cuddle time consists of reading books together, but it doesn’t have to.  If reading books is not a relaxing activity for you and your child (1 -2 books is never enough and always starts an argument, instead of getting sleepy your little one gets stimulated and asks lots of questions) consider some alternatives.  Snuggling and talking about your day can be relaxing and a great bonding experience.  You could also try listening to relaxing music together or telling your child a story about your childhood.

Make sure both parents share bedtime routine responsibilities.  It is important that both parents know the bedtime routines and that the child is comfortable with either parent helping him/her through the routine. If one parent shoulders the responsibility for the bedtime routine it will be challenging if that parent is not available in the evening.  Having both parents participate in the bedtime routine will also help the child in tolerating the little changes that each individual parent will bring to the routine.

Every child is different and every child will have different bedtime needs.  The best thing is to evaluate your family’s schedule and needs and find a routine that works for everyone in the family and ensures that everyone is getting the hours of sleep they need.

Heather Hogan


13 years of experience in Early Childhood Education

Mother of 3 (14, 12, and 8)

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